Throughout the semester, Subject to Change (STC), the university’s improvisational comedy troupe, has been hosting 11pm shows in the Stern Quad on the first Wednesday of every month. Due to the cold temperatures, this final December quad show was held in Jepson 118 in order to accommodate the crowd, though this did remove the usual “roundabout” staging. I was surprised at the turnout, considering the stress of finals week and the cold temperatures, though it seemed like many in attendance were there for a study break. Generally, the audience for their shows is comprised of students from many different clubs and friend groups, as was the case for this show.

Of course, with any improv comedy, audience participation is a large part of the performance. We made a few suggestions for emotions and situations to be used throughout the show, and they did take one of our suggestions: “itchy”. STC’s performances usually include various games with a few of the group’s members. One such game included two comedians in a scene, though the performance area was split up into “emotional zones” of “jealous”, “agitated”, “itchy”, and “elated”. As the scene progressed, some of the lines stated throughout the scene elicited an uproar of laughter from the audience, which at this point in the show had almost filled the room. While most of the jokes throughout the show elicited some giggles from the audience, much of the physical comedy drew laughs from the crowd, as many of the groups’ members are known for their physical comedy.

One game consisted of a talk-show style panel on the topic of shoelaces, though the panelists’ arms were actually those of another comedians, as the panelists tucked their arms behind their backs. Of course, this created a great opportunity for more physical comedy, with one set of arms even managing to put Chapstick on her panelist. However, as the scene began to drag on, some of the comedians who were not immediately involved in the scene entered the audience in order to pose questions of the panelists. Their creative questions effectively reignited the scene, allowing the panelists to finish out the game strong.

Generally, STC organizes their audience participation into suggestion cards before the show begins. As each scene develops naturally under the creativity of each of the comedians, the audience’s response guides where the comedians go next. Some comedians will even break the fourth wall and appeal directly to the audience if they feel their joke unjustly flopped, or to relay their shock in the audience’s twisted sense of humor. Even though this was the last show of the semester in a different setting than usual, audience support and participation, through both direct suggestions and laughter, brought the energy that finals week at UR was missing.

As an avid Harry Potter fan, I was excited to see the second installment of the new series of films set up as a precursor to the novels. The first Fantastic Beasts film provided a new and interesting plot line, with many of the same quirks from the original novels and their film adaptations. However, I was a bit disappointed in this film, as far as plot progression, character development, and a lack of fantastic beasts. More importantly, I believe the audience at Bowtie Cinemas felt the same way.

It is important to note that no one in the audience of this Saturday 7pm showing of the film was under the age of 16. Frankly, some of the parents there with their teenage children seemed more excited for the film than the young adults they were with. We sat near an older couple, and a few other college-aged couples as well. The audience was largely adult, with the exception of a few groups of teenagers (sometimes with their parents tagging along). This age range seems representative of those who have read the original Harry Potter novels, as we discussed with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. As the audience was skewed more toward a young adult and middle-aged crowd, the film seemed to reflect this demographic as well.

As I mentioned before, I was disappointed in the lack of plot and character development in this film as compared to the original series and the first film in this series. I did note that the plot in this film made heavy references to modern supremacist movements and relationship dynamics that apply to teenage generations and older. Without giving much away, the plot followed a similar line as movements we may see on the news, which led me to believe that this series was directed more at young adults, including the now grown children to which J.K. Rowling initially tailored her novels (including myself). Much of the character dynamics were violent, though often this violence wasn’t fully explained or justified through the plot, hence my disappointment. Additionally, only one new fantastic beast was introduced, which again seemed disappointing, considering the title of the series.

Though the film included a few cute or funny moments, the audience did not respond much. Despite a few chuckles or gasps here or there, the audience remained largely silent and still. Perhaps this was due to the age of the audience, or the shared disappointment in the film. Either way, this film presents an interesting look on the demographic to which this series is aimed, and that demographic’s response.

This semester, The University of Richmond Department of Theatre and Dance performed Antigone, a play within the Oedipus cycle which we touched on in class. Having recently read Oedipus Rex, I already had a better understanding of the nuances of the plot and character dynamics. This helped tremendously, as I could tell many of the other audience members were confused by the motivations of the characters.

Because the show had a very short run in a theater as small as the Cousins Studio Theatre, all of the tickets for the weekend were sold out. Fortunately, I have a few friends who were in the production, and I was allowed to join the audience of Theatre Appreciation students for the cast’s Tuesday night dress rehearsal. Though the performance was superb for a dress rehearsal early in tech week, the audience was a bit lacking.

Frankly, many students take classes similar to Theatre Appreciation in order to fulfill the Visual and Performing Arts general education credit, and they don’t necessarily genuinely appreciate theatre. Most of the students in the audience appeared bored as they wrote down a note or two every so often. As one of the few audience members genuinely interested in the production outside of class, I was disheartened to see so many yawns, including one man who appeared to fall asleep at one point.

Admittedly, ancient Greek plays translated into formal language don’t provide the most lively performances. However, as the play progressed and the actors portrayed their characters’ struggles more and more vehemently, I noticed some audience members begin to lean in and listen more intently. The man who fell asleep finally woke up during Tiresias’ warning to Creon, which was satisfying, considering the friend who had secured me a seat at the early performance played Tiresias. As the play grew more and more dramatic, plot lines were clarified, and motivations revealed, the audience grew more and more interested. At the end of the performance, the students in the audience seemed impressed with the production’s dramatics and the actors’ talent.

At our last rehearsal, we had a great turnout, but that was just about the only thing about it that was great. We tried reading and blocking scenes with the kids, but they hated it so much that it became futile. We tried playing games, but they would just run in circles and not listen to us. We even tried to just get them excited for the performance, but they all said that they didn’t want to go.

While this was frustrating to say the least, I was still optimistic, especially when Brandie said that five of them had turned in their permission slips for Friday. But, the buses unloaded the kids at Saint Joseph’s, and it was a different story.

Only two of our kids came to the show, one of whom had never been to rehearsal before. Kids from other groups volunteered to join our group to fill out a few roles, but I still knew what had to be done. I had to be in the show. I had never acted before, and had no theater experience. I thought to myself “Ok, I can do one section,” but quickly I had been drafted into the first and third sections as well.

I wasn’t necessarily nervous to be in front of people and read lines, I had a fear that I didn’t know I would experience: I didn’t want to find out that I wasn’t a good actor. Granted, I had never acted before, so I knew it wouldn’t be so bad, and I could chalk it up to just being my first time on stage.

I got up there, read my lines as well as I could, and went back to congratulate the kids on the performance. Despite the general mood of our group throughout the semester, they were so excited. They had loved their time on stage, although one of them understandably said he had a lot of trouble pronouncing the words. For myself, I came to the conclusion that I knew I would at the start of this process: I should have tried theater in high school. There is something about having a rehearsal every week and then actually having all of that culminate in one performance that really felt like an accomplishment. I hope for the two kids who actually showed up the performance that they keep that with them, and that they go on to try theater again when they’re older. They may be young, but I don’t think this is something they’ll soon forget.

I was extremely anxious for the performance, but was pleasantly surprised at the success of the entire show, as well as our two acts.

Taylor and I had done a quick bout of last-minute cutting before the show after Aaron, our Prospero at the time, had lamented over the sheer length of his many monologues.

Even on the Monday before the show, we were unable to get through the final act of the show, and it was not until the performance was scarcely hours away that we were able to make it through the entire show backstage.

True to form, we experienced a final last-minute change of casting, with some of our returning cast members taking on two roles, such as Laura, who played both Caliban and Miranda, and Jacob, who played both Alonso and Trinculo, which made for a hilarious final act in which both of them changed character onstage.

All in all, a recurring theme of this entire process has been my anxiety over the project or the students themselves, only for the end result to completely exceed my expectations and turn out wonderful in the end.

 

I was very happy with how the actual show went. Our scholars seemed very excited to be a part of the performance, even those who had originally expressed that they wanted no part in performing on stage. They were more than excited to get their makeup done and run through lines before hand, which was a relief to see. Some of our scholars even volunteered to fill in for the other groups, including our Ferdinand, who ended up playing Ferdinand for the entire play.

Overall, the scholars were very cooperative with us and the other actors in the play. When it came time for the performance, only a few scholars were nervous, though with all their friends on stage, they really seemed to have fun with things. They really made things less stressful than I anticipated, which helped not only their act, but the entire play run smoothly. I’m very proud of their hard work throughout the semester and during the performance. The end of the play was somewhat bittersweet, as some of the scholars were sad when they realized that Julia and I would not be coming back to teach theatre anymore. At the end of the day, I’m glad that we could provide a fun project for the few scholars interested in theatre, and I’m very happy with how the production as a whole turned out.

The final rehearsal with Higher Achievement Boushall was simultaneously our most productive and chaotic rehearsal. We actually started on time for the first time in a month, though we had our entire group back. The group had also just come from the gym, so they were all pretty hyped up. Once we got them into the music room and they saw the props, it took quite a bit of convincing to get the scholars to leave the props alone. While our scholars with lines were very excited to begin working with the props, those who hadn’t enjoyed the theatre elective from the start were not satisfied to leave the table of swords and funny hats alone. While some of the scholars worked on the pirate ship, others sat and watched, and a disgruntled few sat in the corner complaining. However, once everyone was settled into their costume pieces and various jobs for the day, we began rehearsing.

The props and costume pieces seemed to give a new confidence to the scholars who were performing, which made Act I much more interesting to watch for those who were not participating. Thankfully, no one hit anyone else with a sword, and the scholars handled the props very well. We finished reading everything through just in time for the end of the day, so I felt good about the amount of practice our scholars had with the scripts. At the end of the day, this practice didn’t matter as much as who would actually show up to the performance the next day. Unfortunately, the scholar meant to play Caliban told us that she couldn’t come to the performance. This was extremely disappointing, as she showed the most promise in her reading and performance skills. We finished rehearsal that day with a lot of scholars excited, either for the performance, or the end of their forced theatre elective.

I was extremely content with the way our production of The Tempest went. I will admit that- at first- Bliss and I were a little bit stressed when we found out that Aaron (our Prospero), Lauren (our Ariel) and a few other students in our cast would not be performing. However, having people in our class fill in for some of the missing performers was extremely helpful, and Bliss and I were also lucky that one student in our cast (Neveah) volunteered to take on the role of Prospero last minute.

For the most part, the students were highly cooperative- they agreed to run through both acts once before the show and followed along in the script during the actual show, keeping track of when they were supposed to enter and exit scenes. The only minor incident that occurred was when the student playing Prospero left to use the bathroom towards the end of Act IV. However, thankfully, another student in the cast came to the rescue and filled in for her, and then the two smoothly transitioned back into their original roles at the beginning of Act V.

The students seemed to have a fun time with the production, and many utilized the costumes, props and makeup we provided them. I feel as though the production ran extremely smoothly, and I honestly couldn’t ask for it to have gone any better.

This week, Bliss and I led our final rehearsal at St. Joseph’s Villa. This rehearsal ended up being our best rehearsal yet, as the students were the most engaged they had ever been, and many of them seemed very excited for the show. At first, Bliss and I were slightly concerned, as when we arrived at the Villa Timone alerted us that we would not be able to practice in our usual rehearsal space, which is the chapel where the final production will take place. However, practicing in the smaller room ended up being better than practicing in the chapel, as the students were a lot more focused practicing in the smaller space. Luckily, all but three students were in attendance at this rehearsal, which also contributed to things running so smoothly.

Bliss and I started off the rehearsal by announcing the final cast list, and giving each student the props and costumes that went with their character(s) once their role(s) were announced. I think this helped get the students engaged in the rehearsal right from the start, as the students were excited to receive the props and costumes. After Bliss and I announced the final cast list and gave out the props and costumes to students, we played the question game, which seems to be the students favorite game. The students had a fun time playing this game, and almost everyone went up to play at some point. We ended the rehearsal by reading through Act V (this was our first time reading through this act). At first, Bliss and I tried to assign the students blocking, but as the readthrough went on we realized that the students weren’t really paying attention to the blocking and were starting to lose focus, so we stopped assigning blocking.

One thing Bliss and I noted during the read through was that Prospero has way too many lines, so when we went through the script to edit it one last time we cut about two pages of his lines. Overall, Bliss and I are feeling good for the production, and- as long as we get a pretty good student turn out- feel as though it could turn out pretty well.

In my experience, the genre of space movies has been consistently dominated by white males with a white woman tossed in every now and then. Hidden Figures breaks from this mold by highlighting the stories of a group of black women who had an integral role in advancing the work of NASA. Every other space movie that I have seen positions the male astronaut as the protagonist. Hidden Figures is different because it brings to the forefront the efforts of those who have previously been considered “behind the scenes”.

The Calculated Response article was very interesting because it brought to my attention aspects of the movie that have been adjusted from reality to target a white audience. In particular, the article analyzes the role of Al Harrison, who is portrayed throughout the movie as being an advocate for equal rights. One of my favorite scenes was when he tore down the bathroom sign, signaling to Katherine that she could use the bathroom that was previously forbidden to her because of her race. When watching the movie, it did not occur to me that this scene and Al Harrison’s character were actually fictional and that he was inserted into the story in order to make white people feel better. After reading the article, I realized that was exactly the affect it had. When white people are faced with confronting the inequalities of the past, instead of acknowledging their wrongness, they grasp for a silver lining of sorts. Al Harrison’s character allows white people to watch this movie and in the midst of all the blatant discrimination and mistreatment, they can focus on him and say “look we weren’t all bad!” The upside of this is that it makes the story more appealing to white people thus broadening the scope of the audience and increasing the exposure of this very important story. The downside is that it detracts from the efforts of Katherine by implying that her success can be partly attributed to a white man. It begs the question, why was this necessary? Can white people really not enjoy a movie unless they are featured in some type of positive light. Would the movie have been better off without the “white savior” plot line? Or do the benefits of increased exposure outweigh the negative repercussions from a slight deviance in actual events? Additionally, I wonder if the decision to include Al Harrison was a conscious choice on the part of the director to cater to white people or of he just thought Harrison would make the movie more interesting without realizing the deeper implications.